16077 Mon, 02/02/2009 - 6:31pm
By David Gill
Despite economic conditions that could hurt demand, home textiles manufacturers are working to push organic-cotton products into the mainstream.
Organic cotton has gained traction as consumers’ interest in all things environmental has risen. “Consumers have become more and more aware and educated on the effects global warming has on our environment, resulting in the need for us to make changes in our everyday life’s consumption and actions,” said Michael Vidra, president of Raymond Waites Design, which now offers Raymond Waites Reflections, a collection of luxury bedding made with organic cotton.
Research has lent support to Vidra’s viewpoint. A report issued early last year by Specialists in Business Information (SBI) described the outlook for organic and other eco-friendly textiles as bullish, and predicted that this textiles category would grow in sales by 40 percent in the four years ending in 2011. The report also cited an estimate from the Organic Exchange Organic Cotton Market Report of 2007, which said global retail sales of all organic cotton products (including apparel and home textiles) would rise from $1.1 billion in 2006 to $6.8 billion in 2010.
Such estimates appear to argue that organic-cotton products will become mainstream in the near future. The category is “still in its infancy, but over the next three years it will be mainstream,” said Jeff Hollander, chief executive officer of Hollander Home Fashions. “Less than 5 percent of our line has organic cotton, but in the next five years we’ll get that to 50 percent.”
Figures from the Organic Exchange, which tracks the production of organic cotton, indicate that farmers of this crop believe that it could be a mainstream textiles ingredient soon. According to the organization’s Organic Cotton Farm and Fiber Report 2008, the world’s cotton farmers expanded their output of the organic material by 152 percent in the 2007-2008 growing season, versus the prior year.
While all this bodes well for this category, the state of the economy does not.
Consumers struggling through a declining business cycle naturally focus more on the prices of the products they shop for. This automatically puts organic-cotton textiles at a disadvantage. “Organic cotton is expensive,” said Miranda Busillo, marketing director for Loftex. In addition, “Consumers may not understand the inherent value in it,” Busillo added.
To counteract this, Loftex introduced a concept in organic-cotton products during the September New York Home Fashions Market. The company debuted a collection of jacquard towels with organic design elements.
“The patterns are not your everyday jacquards, but borrowed from the world of nature,” Busillo said. “Then we did solid towels that blended in organic components with the cotton.”
Rick Lipton, director of the bath coordinate division at Baltic Linen, said the company tried an organic-towel program that “has not met with a high success rate at retail.” He added that cost was a key factor in the program’s laggard performance. “You would need to charge a 20 percent premium above and beyond normal cotton yarns,” Lipton said. “A $9.99 towel is now $11.99, and the scale only increases as the towels get larger and heavier.”
Lipton also noted that, in order to maintain organic towels’ properties, they need to be washed separately from other towels and with organic detergent. “We do not believe that the consuming public fully grasps or embraces the concept, and therefore, have shown indifference to accepting, welcoming or requesting organic towels,” he said.
Based on Lipton’s assessment, it would seem that the industry needs to educate the consuming public about its organic offerings. Increasing shoppers’ knowledge about the process of certifying organic textiles is viewed as a must. Vidra said, “In our market of bedding textiles, organic cotton is certified by agencies from the planting of cotton seeds, spinning of yarn and processing of fabric to finished product.” Among the agencies he cited were Control Union Certifications, a Netherlands-based agency that certifies various production activities, and ECOCERT, a France-based organic-products certification organization.
During the September New York Home Fashions Market, Homestead, a unit of Li & Fung, unveiled its partnership with Good Housekeeping’s thedailygreen brand, with a concept room in its showroom that served as a forum on eco-friendly practices.
Glen Ellen Brown, vice president of brand development for Hearst Magazine, which publishes Good Housekeeping, said the concept room is intended to teach consumers that “the entire vertical process” in manufacturing home textiles is critical to establishing these products as organic.
“From the cotton all the way to the finished product and packaging, eco-friendly methods have to be in every step of the process,” Brown said.
Brown said manufacturers need to find the right retailer partners as well, and “to execute the program on a scale to give consumers affordable products without compromising on styling and design. If we can achieve this partnership, we’ll get closer to mainstreaming the category.”